Modern Sounds in Country and wwWestern Music
For me, somehow, lonesome country songs sound best on the radio, coming out of my car speakers, late at night on an empty back road or highway. Perhaps this overly romantic notion can be attributed to the often observed explanation that sad country songs are the best medicine for being lowdown because they make you realize someone’s got it worse than you. There’s this fool on the radio singing about being in an awful mess, and then there are those fools out there listening, who you tell yourself have it twice as bad as you.
This is what makes web radio so great: You can pretend the whole world has it worse than you. Next time you get ate up with lonesome, get on the lost information superhighway and work things out. There are a number of radio shows and stations cropping up with webcasts that focus on alternative country and Americana music. All you need is RealAudio, which you can download for free; most anyone with a webcast provides a link to the company’s site (www.real.com).
One of the best-known shows is “Swingin’ Doors” (www.kcmu.org.swdoors.htm) on KCMU in Seattle, Washington, hosted by Don Slack (aka KCMU Program Director Don Yates). The show debuted in August 1997 and began broadcasting on the internet this past June. Slack plays what he deems “three hours of alternative country, honky-tonk, country boogie, western swing and other kinds of hard-core twang.” Only the first hour of the show, which airs Thursdays from 7 to 10 p.m. Pacific Time, is available on the web, but the station has plans to start broadcasting 24 hours a day on the web sometime in the near future, according to KCMU “web guy” Patrick Cone. KCMU includes some twangy stuff in its regular variety mix and features two other roots shows, “Shake The Shack” and “The Roadhouse” (also hosted by Slack), which are available through RealAudio. The station also has archived some performances by in-studio guests, including Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, the Gourds, and the Derailers.
WDBM at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, is home to the long-running “Progressive Torch And Twang” (http://www.msu.edu/~depolo), hosted by Douglas Neal and Jamie DePolo. It airs Tuesdays from 8 p.m. to midnight Eastern Time. The station broadcasts on the web 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so you can catch the entire show live. Most shows offer a diverse playlist, with everything from bluegrass and rockabilly to zydeco and instrumental surf music. For the past two years, the show has sponsored an annual live show called the Torch & Twang Fest, which has attracted Robbie Fulks, the Ex-Husbands and the Steam Donkeys among others.
Sonoma County, California, mailman/”radio junkie” Bill Frater is the host of “Freight Train Boogie” (www.sonic.net/~frater/index.html). The passion for music that seems to be missing from most contemporary commercial radio stations can be found in abundance on “Freight Train Boogie”. Frater is proof of the DIY possibilities of the internet. He records his show at a local public radio station onto mini-disc and then plays it back at home, encoding it to RealAudio, and sends it to his internet service provider. He says the entire process has cost him very little, except for perhaps a few z’s. “Freight Train Boogie” focuses mainly on new music of the alt.country/roots variety (that’s not all though), and Frater picks one CD each show to spotlight.
KPIG (www.kpig.com) was the first commercial station in the world to broadcast live on the internet, with its first webcast August 2, 1995. The PIG, broadcasting from Freedom, California, offers a pretty diverse lineup; you’re likely to hear artists such as Uncle Tupelo and Dave Alvin mixed in more mainstream artists such as Eric Clapton and Fleetwood Mac. KPIG’s Wild Bill says the station has gotten a great response to its webcasting so far, attracting listeners from as far away as Siberia and South Africa. He says the webcast has even caught on with the guys in mission control at NASA, who’ve piped the signal up to their astronauts in orbit.
From the Central Texas Hill Country comes Texas Rebel Radio (http://texasradio.com/htmlweb/htmlframeset.cfm) on KFAN, which began broadcasting on the internet in this past summer. The station focuses on — what else — Texas music. That means blues, R&B, country, jazz, Tejano, etc, ranging from Texas singer-songwriters such as Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett to Texas blues-rockers such as ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The station also includes music from artists not from the Lone Star State with similar musical styles. KFAN also has a number of specialty shows, including the “Texas Songwriters Radio Showcase” and “Red Steagall’s Cowboy Corner”, hosted by the Lone Star legend.
Obviously there are many other webcasts of interest to roots-music fans that can be found on the internet, and that number will doubtless continue to grow as the medium becomes more commonplace. In the meantime, these sites can help you work our your troubles with a little twang psychology — or at least provide you with some good country music.